In March 2011, Adam Bridgland created a large-scale mural (now part of the East Wing permanent collection) involving a workshop with public participation to colour the work in on the same day as the London student protests.
In January, to mark the twentieth year of The Courtauld Institute’s East Wing exhibition series, I gathered together a large selection of archive material concerning the first East Wing show and the later independent activities of its curator, the late Joshua Compston. I am sincerely grateful to the Compston family for their support and kind gift of material to the East Wing archive. My thanks are also due to Sam Crabtree, David Taborn and Darren Coffield, who all made the exhibition a success with their individual support.
It is hoped that this body of material will continue to expand over the coming years as the efforts of Joshua Compston become further recognised and celebrated.
I am involved as a periodic gallery assistant and writer for Domo Baal Gallery, for which I wrote the following press release on the occasion of Marcel Dinahet’s solo show at the gallery.
My understanding of French is not as good as it could be. As a result, talking with Marcel Dinahet about his video work hits various stumbling blocks. He is of course able to absolutely elucidate his work in French – using words and concepts that give things linguistic and conceptual anchors – but their relocation into an English context breaks them apart from their initial meaning. Certain aspects of his work, or their titles are often untranslatable in many ways. One of his video series, Fleuves, translates into English as ‘rivers’, but so would the word ‘rivière’ which in English we would without doubt recognise the look of more than the first. These two are, however, very different. ‘Fleuve’ translates more closely into English as a river that flows to the sea; the point at which it ceases to be a tributary, or a stream that meanders within the land. The name is about its function, not its status. In English, we get the term fluvial from this word the action, inhabitants, deposits and physical or topographical sphere of influence of a river. Thus a fleuve has a course and a purpose, its raison d’être is to travel from the land into a wider sea, and thus be connected at its end point to the rest of the world. Connection and connectivity, the openness of a river city, which, as Dinahet says, ‘has a sea inside it’, brings to his extensive body of work the idea that the world is defined by both matter and change, permanence and movement. Dinahet’s Riverains, video–portraits of the inhabitants along the banks of rivers in Vladivostok or Taipei, are about all of these things. The presence and impact of these bodies of water on how we live, the way we accumulate, and populate sites located around rivers and shores (like fluvial deposit) draw every viewer to an understanding both universal and specific, of human and social things.
Dinahet’s characteristic use of frame and distance situates the natural environment as an extension of the viewer’s physical position. His work’s reflexive attitude towards the camera’s cubic proportions and sharp rectangular cropping, seems to project similar dimensions, like a grid or room space, onto what we see on screen. Such a condensation of the spatial and physical with the mechanism of the camera is most noticeable when he allows the lens to touch the surface of water. This one action draws into play the importance of matter and substance, of the experience rather than the look of things, and of the relativity between our visual perception and our own human scale. When at the exhibition stage of being projected onto a wall, these videos draw out lines of (often murky and thick) light through the space, connecting the image to the physical environment of the room.
In more recent work he has given up the camera, literally thrown it overboard, and allowed it its own freedom of movement. This apparent giving up of control never separates the physical action of the camera from the artist’s – and ultimately the viewer’s – engagement with the subject. Indications of human presence and scale occur in the point of contact between water, air, sound and real–time actions and reactions. His portraits of people focus our attention on physical minutiae and facial expression, skirting the idea of the social or racial demographic, and delivering an engagement with individual identity. The camera is used almost intrusively, invading the threshold of personal space through its uncomfortable closeness to each silent encounter. There seems always to be a quietness to his work that nevertheless records chaos and happenings, a stillness that captures movement, and a pensiveness that minutes every unmeant or unconscious reaction from its subject.
The various barriers that are set up between him and I from the start of our conversations are both linguistic and visual. His attitude towards recording the world carries over into the way he approaches me. Yet there is a visual language of matter, of debris, collections of things, social and geographical archeology in progress, and most importantly for my reception of his videos, a physical connection between my self and his subjects, however diverse.
Matthew Reeves, London October 2010.
In late 2010, I curated an exhibition of contemporary art over three venues, choosing artists who look specifically at history within their work – be it visually (through use of, and comment on, a particular medium/material), culturally and politically (critique of gender representation, and of certain sections of historical societies), or through other methodological frameworks. The resulting show, Young Masters Revisited, was kindly sponsored by the Cynthia Corbett Gallery.
At Sphinx Fine Art on Kensington Church Street, I was able to work with the gallery’s large collection of Old Master works from the 17th to 19th centuries and hang examples alongside contemporary works. Particular highlights included Lucas Cranach the Younger, Sassoferrato, Willem Kalf and Gustave Courbet, with which works by Briony Anderson, Leigh Chorlton, Victoria Hall, Karen Knorr and others were paired or hung nearby.
At the Old Truman Brewery, a large and now defunct brewing complex on Brick Lane, I looked at the work of the same contemporary artists, as well as others not displayed at Sphinx, in isolation from these histories. I recreated a Long Gallery space within the industrial white space of the brewery with works opposite each other in a more confrontational arrangement than had been possible or appropriate at Sphinx. Ghost of a Dream created a large room-like installation of mirrors and chandeliers, as well as a specially made light box for the show, and other artists exhibited new photographic, painted, and sculpted works in a variety of media: from porcelain and fibre optics to lottery tickets and woodcuts. Highlights included Katsutoshi Yuasa, Charlotte Bracegirdle and Claire Partington.
The Courtauld Institute of Art once again provided hospitality to a flailing student, enabling me to mount a solo exhibition of wall-mounted polyptychs by Lluis Barba for the Autumn of 2010. This included an impressive reworking of Hieronymous Bosch’s Haywain (c.1485-90).
I was a research assistant for the Henry Moore exhibition held at Tate Britain between February and August 2010. With the help of the Association of Art Historians I was able to spend six weeks working full time with the sculpture conservation department at Tate Britain in the run up to the show.
This was the second year I had covered the Deutsche Börse for the London Student. It was a very interesting set of photographers, but nothing about the curation of the show made them work together (or maybe that’s the point). I think exhibitions like the Deutsche Börse and perhaps also the Turner Prize, but to an extent even New Contemporaries, have put too much weight on finding a winner of some kind in contemporary visual culture. Of course artists must be rewarded for the work they do, but are the exhibitions their work is showcased in actually productive, or does the prize dominate over the art? Is external gratification what we are told to look for?
Now in its fourteenth year, the Deutsche Borse photography prize rewards the best photographer as decided by a panel of curators, critics and artists, and has in the past featured the work of Andreas Gursky and Juergen Teller. So, how do you condense the last twelve months of international photography down to occupying a room and a half in Ramilies Street? Unfortunately for the Photographer’s Gallery, long term host of the prize, the four shortlisted artists just don’t work in the same space. The problem this year is that the works on display cover what seems to be the entire scope of contemporary photography, everything from the politics of the warzone and the objective survey, to the nostalgia of childhood and capturing of the overlooked and everyday.
Sophie Ristelheuber’s large-scale photographs dominate the ground floor, and promise a powerful exhibition. Her diptych Vulaines I is an intense exploration of childhood senses. In one image we are onlookers, approaching four children from behind as if to admonish them. In its sister image, we find ourselves between two life-sized single beds, hiding from what might be the same punishment we were about to administer and actively engaged in the game. Tugging the viewer back into the lost paradise and perpetual cheekiness of childhood, while simultaneously making us an adult-figure about to arrest the playfulness of others, Ristelheuber vividly conjures up the inevitability of innocence in a world of adult rules. Her other pieces vary hugely, the work of a prolific and multifarious creative process. Because of Dust Breeding – an homage to Man Ray’s photograph of Duchamp’s Large Glass that explores the abstract qualities of the camera lens – is another of Ristelheuber’s mature and interesting images.
Upstairs, Anna Fox’s amusing reminiscences on her father’s punitive sayings and the contents of her mother’s kitchen cupboards, likewise offer us images of a tainted nostalgia. However, unlike the powerful feelings encapsulated by Ristelheuber, most of Fox’s work becomes contrived through its hotch-potch and cluttered display, and relies on its quirky humour and diary-like format to say anything at all. Far from using photography in a contemporary way, Zoe Leonard engages with its history, picking up where Walker Evans left off in a series from her 11-year project Analogue Portfolio. A ‘chronicler of the overlooked’ as her exhibition blurb states in its opening line (ironically, isn’t everyone?), Leonard’s work frames gaudy and decaying shop fronts. By capturing the concise compositions of the windows, where rolls of fabric are piled to bursting point, and grafitti spells out what looks like ‘gold’ in Spanish, Leonard possessively records the beauty and value of the everyday street scene in all its modest, pock-marked regalia.
Donovan Wylie, born and raised in Belfast, is represented by a series cataloguing the architecture of the eponymous Maze Prison before it was destroyed in 2006. His description of the curling, ribbon-like qualities of crushed metal fencing and repetitive buildings engages with the expressive poetry of formalism as much as with the political overtones of the location, and fuses banality with sensuous abstraction. However, as can be expected from this type of exhibition and the motives behind it, the competitive and cramped context of display detracts from the photographs’ power to arrest and invoke. Our interaction with them is intercepted by the gallery; mediating, muscling in on what could otherwise be subtle, emotive, and beautifully lyrical works of art. A striking shortlist, but a disappointing show. Winner announced 17th march, show runs until 18th april.
The following are taken from the catalogue for East Wing Nine – Exhibitionism: The Art of Display, the ninth in an ongoing series of large scale biennial art exhibitions held from January 2010 to July 2011 at The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, London. I co-curated the exhibition, which included over 100 artists and 200 works, and put particular emphasis on a changing list of events, workshops, and short exhibitions held around the institute under the overall auspices of the show.
Click here for the full version of the Exhibition Catalogue